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The long haul: aligned interests and a shared passion are crucial concerns for independent insurance agents when choosing a carrier.

An independent insurance agent has to consider two main qualities when choosing a carrier with which to do business: financial stability and risk control expertise. But how can an agent distinguish among the many other qualities to determine who the best potential partner is? Like any relationship, obvious traits are noticed first. But to sustain a meaningful partnership, and to stay together for the long haul, interests must be aligned and passions must be shared.

Start with motivation. Look closely at the reasons a carrier would want to work with an agent or broker. Is the carrier focused only on gaining market share in a specific market? Is it offering a real growth opportunity or merely seeking to convert a book of business to its brand? Carriers worthy of consideration should demonstrate a passion for helping the agent grow his or her own business over time--a real commitment to partnering for the long-term growth of both the agency and the insurer. Instead of simply wanting to get a bigger piece of the pie, carriers should show willingness and a capacity to work with an agent to grow the total pie in a particular market and reap the rewards together.

Next, examine the insurance carrier's overall business model and the way it interacts with agents. Get to know the employees at the local level. This is a true indicator of how a potential relationship will function. The people an agent will be dealing with on a daily basis are the ones who will make or break the relationship. They should possess a thorough understanding of each product's life cycle from the customer's perspective. And they must follow through after the sale is closed, realizing that the customer experience doesn't end when the customer signs on the dotted line; it has just begun.

Any business is only as good as its front-line employees, and the insurance industry is no different in this regard. Do the people in the local office seem connected to the carrier as a whole? A quality organization will ensure that its employees are both empowered and supported at both the regional and local levels with access to all the resources, products and services the company provides on a national scale. The most attractive potential partners always will display a cohesive corporate culture evident at every agent and customer interaction.

No one wants to be slowed down by someone who can't make a decision. Agents should look for carriers that are responsive to customer and agent needs at the local level. A decentralized decision-making structure works best to ensure that employees at the local level can respond to questions and needs in a timely manner. This gives the professionals on the ground the leeway they need to craft innovative insurance solutions quickly.

The claim experience is the ultimate test for the carrier. After all, superior service is what resonates with customers and leads to renewed and expanding books of business. A carrier should demonstrate a dear commitment to professional, timely, hassle-free claim service. Do claim adjusters have access to technology that enables them to operate efficiently from the field to provide estimates and write checks on the spot? Does the company have the capacity to deploy a large claim response team in the wake of a catastrophe and to process a high volume of claims in a short period of time? Does it employ risk control specialists who can help customers become better risk managers themselves?

One of the best ways to grow a business is to anticipate and meet customers' emerging needs. The best agents are able to do this so well that they sometimes identify problems and offer solutions before customers even recognize the need. The right insurance carrier not only can facilitate but also accelerate this process and provide an added high level of credibility for educating the consumer. An effective partnership also can yield valuable intelligence on market conditions and shifting demographics, factors that affect businesses and individuals and dictate their evolving insurance needs.

When choosing an insurance carrier, agents should consider whether they have found a carrier with the right chemistry. If a potential carrier partner shows no signs of thinking strategically about an agent's local market share, it's not likely to be a good match for the future. Agents should look for carriers who understand that an independent agent's first priority is to grow his or her own business, not enhance the bottom line of a carrier. They should find carriers who will enhance the customer experience and deliver a better product for the agents. Ample skilled and knowledgeable carrier resources can more ably meet the anticipated as well as unanticipated claims-handling requirements.

And finally, agents should seek to couple with carriers that have demonstrated a commitment to innovation, flexibility and responsiveness, not only with regard to the products and services they offer the end consumer but also in their dealings with their agency collaborators. Keeping these guidelines in mind can go a long way toward choosing the right carrier relationship for the long haul.

Contributor Kate Preston is executive vice president of enterprise marketing for St. Paul Travelers. She can be reached at kpresto2@stpaultravelers.com.
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Title Annotation:Selling Insight: Agent/Broker
Comment:The long haul: aligned interests and a shared passion are crucial concerns for independent insurance agents when choosing a carrier.(Selling Insight: Agent/Broker)
Author:Preston, Kate
Publication:Best's Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:864
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